US defence and aerospace major, Boeing has set its eyes on the Indian Air Force's (IAF) decade-old requirement for six multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft, after defence ministry terminated the tender for the second time.
Boeing was not in contention for the previous two tanker tenders of the IAF as it did not have any aircraft that was fitting the Indian requirement. However, Boeing now has KC-46A Pegasus, the tanker aircraft it developed to replace US Air Force's (USAF) older KC-135 Stratotankers.
Following its win in the USAF's KC-X tanker competition, USAF has placed 179 aircraft on order. The first 18 aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in early 2018.
IAF's last two attempts to purchase these tankers were not successful. The first tender in 2006, was won by Airbus with its modified 330-200 aircraft with competition from Russia with its Ilyushin-78 tanker. But the tender was withdrawn in 2010 citing high cost.
The defence ministry again issued a global tender, in which Airbus A330 MRTT was yet again selected in 2012, but the government terminated the tender in July 2016, citing conflict between procurement cost and life cycle cost. The Airbus A330 MRTT came out cheaper after calculating its life cycle costs.
Tankers act as force multipliers allowing IAF operate its fighter aircraft for longer distance and they do not have to come back to their base for refuelling.
Outlining the difference between Boeing's KC-46A Pegasus with that of its rival Airbus A330 MRTT, Glenn Hanbey, the Pegasus marketing head told Business Standard that their aircraft has been developed as military aircraft featuring military style seating. It also allows its owners to secure the aircraft with seats for 160 passengers. Additionally, it can also be used for medical evacuation and it features giant side doors to aid large cargo loads.
It also features tanker-specific avionics and state-of-the-art displays with a three-dimensional view of the aircraft refuelling operation.
Further, Pratyush Kumar, Boeing India head claimed that the aircraft has a reliability rate of 99.7 percent and is 30 percent more fuel efficient than other tankers. He also claimed that it is 20 percent cheaper to operate.
Indian Armed Forces will not have problem with Boeing's offer as they currently use two different aircraft belonging to Boeing, the C-17 Globemasters and P8I submarine hunters.
There are just 51 Airbus 330 MRTT that are on order with several countries, UK's RAF ordering the highest with 14 of them. The Airbus 330 MRTT can carry more fuel than the KC-46A Pegasus. Its seats do not reflect that of a military aircraft and are like that of the commercial civil aircraft.
Since 2003, IAF has been using six Russian Ilyushin-78 tankers for aerial refuelling missions.
With Boeing entering the contest, it will be interesting to see if it will unseat the Airbus's position. Airbus has the advantage of moving first into the competition and also winning in both the previous bids.